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Publisher's Summary

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, this is Ken Follett's classic historical masterpiece.

The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has known...of Tom, the mason who becomes his architect - a man divided in his soul...of the beautiful, elusive Lady Aliena, haunted by a secret shame...and of a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.

The Pillars of the Earth is followed by World Without End and A Column of Fire.

©1989 Ken Follett (P)2007 Penguin US

Critic Reviews

"Enormous and brilliant . . . this mammoth tale seems to touch all human emotion - love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair. This is truly a novel to get lost in." (Cosmopolitan)
"A historical saga of such breadth and density... Follett succeeds brilliantly in combining hugeness and detail to create a novel imbued with the rawness, violence and blind faith of the era." (Sunday Express)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Very very surprised

I am usually a fan of thriller type books and have listened to authors like Charlaine Harris and Nelson Demille, who I rate very highly.... I drive roadtrains for 12 hour shifts so like going for longer type books, and saw this book was 41 hours long and had seen a good review for it...so I got it with my credit for the month since it cost a little more. I thought there was a good chance it was going to be a mistake... I mean set in the 12th century about building of a cathedral, haha, i am not religious or much of a history buff....
Well all I can say is "This is one of the best books I have listened to since joining audible.com and I have listened to heaps"... Totally engrossed in it from the first 30 pages and it never stopped..... Get it and listen to it you won't be dissapointed whether you are a harley riding dude or a chick working in a lawyers office, you won't regret it.....

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

As good the second time around...

I read Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth when it was published in 1989 - and the epic is no less engaging the second time around. Follett has woven in all the elements of a top notch tale - good, evil, justice, injustice, ambition, greed, redemption... The addition of Follett's preface adds insights into the creation of the novel and his transition from thrillers to the much more complex structure and story of Pillars.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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A time when "God and his saints slept........"

In " The Pillars of the Earth", as shown through the lives of widely differing characters, Ken Follett has painted an outstanding picture of the appalling chaos, poverty and starvation prevalent in England during the nine years when Stephen and Matilda were rampaging around the country fighting for the crown.

The general breakdown of any justice or law and the perpetual uncertainty and brutality of life is very clearly shown. Those in authority changed so often that the general populace had no idea who would be their next harsh and demanding masters. The devious political intrigues between and within both church and state, fuelled by greed, spite and lust for power are well portrayed. Be prepared for many graphic descriptions of extreme and cruel violence. It is certainly typical of the times but you can skip in a book, harder with an ipod!

Woven into the tale and central to the theme are clear, understandable explanations and descriptions of the actual planning, building and methods used in 12th century England to build a cathedral. Such majestic and spectacular results were achieved with rudimentary methods and simple tools we can only be awed and the trials and triumphs of the Kingsbridge builders felt personal.

Recommended as an amazing book with so much of various interest and narrated superbly by John Lee.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Jacobus
  • Johannesburg, South Africa
  • 11-13-10

At lomg last... the unabridged version

Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth is a book on intrigue, romance, strife and the building of a cathedral. Like War and Peace and some of the older classics you are confronted with more of the characters' lives than usual. However, you are not wondering about the main characters.

Although a long listen, this book is worth it. The narrator, John Lee, was able to bring this monumental work of Follett sufficiently to life. He pulled you through the one or two places of boredom.

For those who have or are watching the television series, the book and the series differs substantially. This leaves certain things unpredictable.

The book comes highly recommended.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Modern tripe

What disappointed you about The Pillars of the Earth?

The predictable one-dimensional characters, the predictable and unneccessary laciviousness, the lack of authenticity and the predictability.

What could Ken Follett have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Not written it.

Did John Lee do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

Yes, except his Welsh accent was all wrong (I'm from North Wales, we don't speak like extras from Gavin and Stacey, we don't call our fathers 'Da' - hate it when the whole of Wales is charicatured as South Wales - we're far more lyrical up here - Bryn Terfel, Rhys Ifans - listen to their accents).

What character would you cut from The Pillars of the Earth?

All but Aliona and Tom Builder.

Any additional comments?

I was so looking forward to listening to this, I love historical fiction, but there was nothing here which immersed me in the past, it was a modern story coincidentally set in 10th Century, with modern language, modern characters and modern sensibilities. It was beyond bad, really. I stuck with it until about three-quarters of the way through (admittedly, I increased the speed on my iPod to get through it more quickly) but the nastiness of the characters, the predictable way they acted, the vicarious pleasure Mr Follet seemed to take in the depravity shown towards women, it angered me and made my skin crawl. I abandoned the listen without regret.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Cheryl
  • Cape Town South Africa
  • 07-15-11

Wonderful Narration

A rich absorbing book with a spellbinding narration. I loved the change of pace and subtlety of the narrator.
Another Ken Follett masterpiece!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sonja
  • Hilton, South Africa
  • 12-01-10

An epic tale!

I am a huge fan of Ken Follett so am somewhat biased, however on this occasion I think he deserves all the praise he gets. It is a long book with many characters in whose lives you become immersed. I never got bored or wished away a single word or sentence. The narration was excellent. It is an epic story and worth more than 1 credit!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Engrossing

What did you like about this audiobook?

The listener becomes completely immersed in this world of cathedrals and their building, life challenges, politics and love.

Does the author present information in a way that is interesting and insightful, and if so, how does he achieve this?

The way in which historical information and the storyline were woven together.

What did you find wrong about the narrator's performance?

Nothing. John Lee is fabulous.

Do you have any additional comments?

This book was thoroughly enjoyable. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul
  • Wahroonga, Australia
  • 09-21-11

Sensational

I read the physical copy of World without End first sometime ago .... this was even better - SENSATIONAL .... I'm even shouting at the kids in a Welsh accent ;-)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Geoff
  • Napier, New Zealand
  • 12-13-10

Repetitious

It has taken me years to get around to this book. I actually quite enjoyed it although at 41 hours Mr Follett has made it twice as long as it needed to be. Many of the themes were repetitious and similar life stories seemed to apply to quite a few of the characters. I have always liked John Lee as a narrator. He saved the book for me.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • 10-31-10

The Pillars of the Earth

Watching the current TV series is rather like reading the abridged version of this epic tale which is the only version that was hitherto available in the UK. One of the things that really draws you into this tale is the vast array of interesting characters and the depth of their characterisation. Enjoy the minutae of their everyday lives, the way that people ate, slept, worked and were beholden to their Lords & Masters in the 12th century. Historical facts like the English civil war and battles fought in 1142 are interwoven with everyday tales of love, hate, treachery and corruption. Absolutely compelling listening and despite the length, I was dissapointed when I finally came to the end.

55 of 58 people found this review helpful

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  • Julie
  • 12-13-10

Better than the TV series

I know its a cliche, but i would strongly advise anyone who watched and enjoyed the TV series to listen to this unabridged version of the book. While i thought the series was excellent, it does contain some alterations to the original story. The story contained in the book hangs together much better. It is also more historically accurate. For example Stephen was not captured at the same time as Gloucester. The book more accurately represents Stephens weak character and his reluctance to take on the Earls- which doesn't come across in the TV version.
It is a story which you do not want to end. Moreover, the ending is not obvious- just when you think everything is sorted the book has another twist in stall. The characters in the book are very realistic, while William and the bishop are more evil than appears on the tv version.
Beware the book is much more graphic than the series- some pretty sexually explicit scenes- not for children to hear! Although this is not arbitrary, it adds real sense to lawlessnes of the society during this war and immorality of those given power.

33 of 36 people found this review helpful

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  • Mrs
  • 12-23-12

Fabulous book

Ken Follett's ability to keep his readers interested in long novels is wonderful - this is epic Follett, wide ranging, believable characters, he gives a real sense of history. This kept me entertained through ironing, mucking out the horses and driving to work! The second time I listened to it was as good as the first - there were bits I hadn't really taken in. A great listen.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Si
  • 02-10-11

OK, I guess,,,,

The novel is decently written with some entertaining and compelling sections. It is worth listening to but in my opinion it is by no means a masterpiece, or worthy of such a high star rating.

The characters are fairly two-dimensional and the story arcs are written as a 300 page thriller's would be, just extended or repeated, rather than having the depth or abstraction that comes from reality. Everything is resolved in time. In epic novels which span large periods of time and encompass a spectrum of events and characters the most successful understand that in life not all problems are solved neatly. It is this neatness that shows the author's true talent is as a thriller writer and not an epic novelist. Once you have listened to a fair portion of the book each time a new crisis emerges it becomes a waiting game for the resolution and a wait for the next crisis to follow.

The characters are pretty simplistic too, there are two camps, the good and the bad. The bad seem to spend their entire lives scheming to ruin the good. The conflict becomes monotonous and frankly unbelievable, especially during the end sections of the novel which take place 35 years after the original offences, which further damages the novels credibility.

A decent enough listen and disposable entertainment but a lack of depth can be infuriating and really lets the novel down.

28 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Petra
  • 02-18-15

Ripping yarn

This is a humdinger of a story.
I don't think that its the greatest literature, occasionally the plot took barely credible detours so that lose ends could be tied up, and I wasn't wild about the narrator. But I whisked thru the huge book in a few weeks and couldn't wait to hear the end.
If you like historical fiction you won't be disappointed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Kirstine
  • 06-14-14

Medieval soap opera

I downloaded this book having been impressed by the first two parts of the author’s Century Trilogy. These latter books illuminated the impacts of the First and Second World Wars by creating fictional characters whose lives are played out against the backdrop of world affaires. I had hoped that Pillars of the Earth would do the same for 12th century history and the turbulent time of the civil war caused by King Stephen and Queen Maud both claiming the throne of England. Pillars isn’t in the same class as the Century books. The historical content is subservient to a medieval melodrama of baddies versus goodies with little subtlety in characterisation. A saintly Prior is trying to get a cathedral built but is perpetually thwarted by a dastardly knight and corrupt bishop. It’s a story of repeated crises where the Prior’s hopes are dashed only in the end to get the better of his adversaries. The book reminds me of dark fairy stories where a monster lives on the outskirts of a town and requires repeated sacrifices by the villagers to ward off an attack but in the end good triumphs over evil. There is an interesting story buried in this book but there are just too many similar scenarios. Somewhat incongruously there are repeated sex scenes that seem more like soft porn than real life. I felt that rape scenes were too lasciviously described than necessary and the sheer number of references to large breasts that are salivated over, fondled and pinched became risible!
The reader is excellent and contributed to me carrying on with this very long book. Had I been reading it I would have given up but, as I use audio books as company on walks and while doing household chores, I soldiered on.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Ian
  • 02-17-11

Thank the Lord its over!!

I know its a failing in me. If I've invested in a book I have to see it through to the end, and this one required rather more teeth-gritting than is entirely healthy.
I love well-written historical fiction (see Patrick O'Brien) but this was the most unbelievable tosh.
Bernard Cornwell on a bad day making an unholy tryst with Dame Barbara Cartland and a very VERY sub-standard D.H.Lawrence.
Another reviewer refers to the two-dimensional nature of the characters: this is an exaggeration... all the characters are barely one-dimensional, there is little or no psychological development(astonishing considering the time-scale covered by this novel) and they are all either unbelievably good or unremmitingly bad.
I gave a star for the reading and a couple of stars for the descriptions of the Cathedral-building, but then I remembered those endless, passionless, colourless, distincly unerotic,cold, clincal sex scenes, and knocked a star off! You can see them coming a mile off, the bells clang, the sirens sound, the hooters blare (no pun intended) and you know you're in for a very trying 20 minutes indeed!
If a reader is really interested in the Early English Cathedral as a literary journey, may I strongly recommend William Golding's 'The Spire': rather more challenging and rather less a Medieval East Enders.
Save yourself almost 2 days (I can't believe that) and pass this one by!

31 of 40 people found this review helpful

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  • Robyn
  • 01-07-14

This is a special book

I delayed reading this - it just looked dull/unappealing. Boy was I wrong.
42 hours of listening pleasure! It's got everything - intrigue, humour, well developed characters, great plot.

According to Ken Follett himself, this is a book which has grown in popularity with time, and by word of mouth - and you can see why.

If you enjoy full, detailed, and well constructed epics, then treat yourself with this. It's not hard going despite it's length.

18 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Michelle
  • 01-11-11

Simply the Best

This is, quite frankly, the best book I've ever read - and I've read a fair few in my time. 'Pillars' is an epic, in the true context of the word, and despite its length I was disappointed when it ended. It is a tale of good versus evil over the period of the lifetime of the main protagonists; the characters grew from young people into adults and then into old people, and the development of these characters was superb. The evil, as opposed to the merely unpleasant, characters were deepened with graphic descriptions of their acts; some of these made me feel extremely uncomfortable at the time, but with hindsight were an excellent way of moving the plot along and developing the characters at the same time. It should be remebered that the backdrop is 12th century England, and such barbarity was not uncommon at that time. The narration was also excellent, and made each twist and turn of the plot line come alive. I don't often recommend books as reading is a very personal thing, but I can recommend this to anybody, and the length should not deter anybody.

21 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Nibbler
  • 02-27-17

Suspend your disbelief and you'll enjoy it

Spoiler Alert - not really a major plot give-away, just a small detail.

This book is a weird mix of (fairly flat) modern-age characters in a sometimes-well researched back-drop of building a cathedral during The Anarchy. Some of it is totally captivating - the careful descriptions of cathedrals and much of it entirely unbelievable - our hero invents flying buttresses and flat east walls and carving leaves etc. It's really, really long and by the end (which involves our villain killing Thomas Becket) I really didn't care.

I have not read any other Follett, but I find his style very simplistic - like something taught in primary school. Kind of... Jack felt sad and worried... (not a direct quote). This made me want to scream. However, I did finish it and I did enjoy much of it and I did find lots of it captivating.

The performance was excellent, and I think this is what carried me through.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Fady
  • 02-20-16

My favorite book!

An amazing book
An epic story spanning the entire lifetime of the characters filled with action, tragedy and love affairs. Beautifully written, i really felt that i got to know the true essence of the characters. This book will take you for a ride!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • 01-09-16

my favourite book!

I have loved this book since I was a child. I was hesitant to try the audio book as i was afraid that the narrator wouldn't do it justice. I'm so glad i tried it out. John Lee gave this story justice with his amazing narration. his voice is beautiful to listen to and his character voices where spot on.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Bernadette
  • 02-06-15

Fantastic story - great performance

You will not be disappointed with this book. It is a long book yet the end comes to soon. The pillars transports the listener to a world full of struggle and triumphs.

This was my first Ken Follett book, and have since listened to six other titles. This is the one book to start with. Enjoy!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 08-27-17

Engaging storyline and interesting characters

Loved this audio book! It's become one of my favourites. Would highly recommend to everyone

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • PJ
  • 11-11-17

Gripping read from start to finish!

This was a magnificent read, I was distraught when it finished as I was so invested in all the characters....thank you Ken Follett! Thank you also John for a fantastic narration

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  • Darryl Culgan
  • 10-22-17

sensational book

Sensational book. Wanted it to keep going. Totally different to any other book that I have read. I highly recommend it

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-08-17

brilliant story

Great narration of a in depth story. You really get to learn about the characters and form an almost bond with them. I can't believe this hasn't been turned into a tv series like Game of Thrones. The story is just as good with all the waves of dispair, heartbreak, and those "hooray" moments I can't put a word to right now.

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  • rodney
  • 09-03-17

Recommend to everyone

Would you listen to The Pillars of the Earth again? Why?

It's a beautiful story, but once you know all the twists and turns in the plot, it would not be one I would listen to again-- at least not for a long while.

What did you like best about this story?

I love fiction based on history, and Ken Follett is a master at writing . It is an education as well as a gripping story.

Which character – as performed by John Lee – was your favourite?

No particular favourite, every character is so well described I feel as though I know them all.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Yes, both laugh and cry. Fortunately I listen when I am working on my own so I don't look a bit silly to an observer.

Any additional comments?

The book would take most authors a lifetime to research and write, I don't know how Ken Follett has managed to find the time to write so many other great books.<br/>The narrator, John Lee, is superb, he is so clever with voicing all the different characters, and deserves a medal in my opinion.

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  • ben
  • 08-20-17

fantastic

outstanding story. lots of twists. very well narrated. enjoyed every minute. thank you looking forward to the second book

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  • steve
  • 07-30-17

Doesn't live up to the hype.

It's an OK story, but I didn't really think it was any more than the usual thriller writer type of fare. From all the hype surrounding it I expected some kind of transcendent masterpiece but it didn't seem to deliver. I actually gave up on it half way through because it felt like a waste of time, like watching a TV show because you're bored. If you just want a bit of entertainment then I suppose it's OK.